Daily Archives: 02/03/2013

#2: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

KindredI really wanted to like this book.  I was so disappointed.

The plot should have led to an amazing book.  It’s 1976, it’s Dana’s 26th birthday, and things are looking good.  She’s married to a white man named Kevin, they’re in their new home, they’re both ready to write more books, and things are really quite great.

Then she gets dizzy and wakes up near a river where she sees a white boy drowning.  She leaps into the water to save him and is incredibly confused when a she turns and finds a gun pointed in her face with an angry white man yelling at her.

Then she’s on the other side of her living room in her new house.  She’s wet and muddy and Kevin can’t figure out how she got over there.

And here’s the first moment where I thought to myself “Oh no.  This isn’t going to be as great as I want it to be.”

Pretend you see someone pitch over in front of you.  You race over to see what’s wrong, to check if she is breathing, if  you need to call for help, or if she just needs a minute.  Your mind is racing as  you try and figure out what needs to be done.  Then she vanishes.  Then she calls your name and you turn around to find her on the other side of the room, wet and muddy.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction would be something along the lines of


She was right there!  You had your hands on her, then she DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.

Kevin is confused, but it’s more of a “How in the hell did that happen?” angry puzzlement.  Dana tries to explain that she got dizzy then was in front of a river watching a boy almost drown.  Kevin doesn’t really believe her.

DUDE!  SHE DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.  Ignore the part where she is suddenly wet and muddy.  She was right there, then she was not right there, and now she is over there!  You saw it happen!  Why do you think she’s making it up???



After Kevin tries to convince her it was a hallucination or a dream, she tries to get back to the day.  She’s confused, as one would be if they DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP – you know what?  Forget it.  I’m not going to get past this part.

And it happens again.  And again.  And again.

Turns out she’s going back in time to the Southern plantation where her ancestors are from.  The white boy she saved from drowning is Rufus, the plantation owner’s son.  And apparently he’s also her super-great-grandfather.

What in the holy fuck?

No one ever told her that her super-way-back-grandmother Alice Greenwood married a white man. And why is she even here with him?

The second time she appears it’s about five years after Rufus almost drowned.  This time he’s about to burn himself to death while possibly taking down the entire house with him.  Dana puts the fire out and the two of them begin to talk, trying to figure out what’s happening.

The first time Rufus calls her a nigger, she begins to suspect that something terrible is going on.

This time when she returns home to Kevin, she’s covered in blood.

She continues to go back and forth to Rufus.  Each time he’s older and his personality is changing.  She realizes she needs to make sure he has a child with Alice Greenwood or she will no longer exist in California in 1976.

This is why this book should have been awesome.  A modern, strong black woman is going back in time to slavery.  She sees what is happening.  She has to become a slave in order to survive, both in the past and in her present time.  She has to quickly learn the rules to stay safe without giving up on her 1976 self.  It’s confusing and terrifying and had so much potential.

But it didn’t work for me.

It was interesting and heartbreaking to see how Rufus changes from a scared white boy to a cruel slave owner.  Even though Dana is brought there to save him and he knows that they are linked together, he still sees her as his property.  Even worse, he knows that he controls when she comes to him.  Dana becomes more and more trapped and begins to lose her sense of self.

Kevin ends up being pulled into the past with her, and this is where the strongest part of the book happens.  Dana is horrified to see how quickly they both fall into their roles of slavery in the South.  Kevin now owns her and this gives her a sense of freedom because his skin color protects her.  As long as she has a white man to claim her, she can’t be sold.  She sees Kevin slipping into an uneasy comfort as he tries to make things better.  He can’t change society, but he feels like he has a chance to do some good.

I don’t know.  I wanted this book to be so much more.  The idea of a black woman from 1976 being transported back in time to her slavery past was fascinating but it didn’t work for me.  I wish I had written this review soon after finishing the book because I can no longer remember what I wanted the book to be.  Because it was a disappointment, I’ve shrugged it off and forgotten the details that didn’t work.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t really care about anyone.  In order for this story to work, I needed to love these people, and I didn’t.  I don’t know if it became a Tell and not Show situation, but I just didn’t care.

Mostly I was frustrated at how Dana lets Rufus live.  I don’t know if it was because she needed him to get Alice pregnant or what, but it didn’t fit in with her character.  She’d get angry but then… eh.  She’d try and teach him that things would be different, but then… whatever.  She’d feel that she was in danger, but not really because he knew she needed to be kept safe.  The two of them are completely locked together but there’s no sense of balance.  Rufus is able to control her in his time because he’s white, but it felt like an afterthought, which makes zero sense because it’s the entire point of the book.

I don’t know.  I wanted it to be more, and it wasn’t and that was depressing.